The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 1-0):
|Clippers 106, Blazers 102
The Big Picture:
The Clippers had a weekend daytime double-dip, playing consecutive games at 12:30 PM. Both results were surprising, albeit in completely different ways. On Saturday, the Clippers hammered the Mavericks in what easily ranks among their best wins of the season. On Sunday, the Clippers succumbed to the Heat in what easily ranks among their most disappointing losses of the season. They can't even blame the Miami loss on sleeping in, as Chris Paul and company stormed to a 19-6 lead before All-Star Center Hassan Whiteside rumbled his way to 23 and 16. Wait, he's not an All-Star? He's just another once-anonymous player who parlayed a matchup with the Clippers into a career performance? If the Clippers made Whiteside look unstoppable, how will they fare against Portland, a team with two legitimate stars capable of posting gaudy numbers on even an average night?
Welcome to the Thunderdome! The Thunder don't actually play there, but the Trail Blazers do, and Portland loves its basketball team. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and the old Rose Garden, now named Moda Center, would sound as deafening. The Blazers enter tonight's game 18-3 at home. They are without hulking center Robin Lopez, but its hardly slowed them down. They've won 9 of 11 games in his absence. Always a sweet-shooting team, this year's edition has upped the ante on the other end. The Dream of the 90s is alive, and Portland comes into tonight allowing just 98.7 points per 100 possessions, good for the 3rd-best rate in the league. Damian Lillard has become a downright assassin, and LaMarcus Aldridge still has that unblockable jumpshot. The Clippers better be careful — these roses have thorns.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Blazers' average point differential betters the Clippers' by only one point per game. However, the Blazers find themselves five games ahead in the standings because they've taken care of business against the East. They're 17-2 against teams from the weaker conference, whereas the Clippers are just 11-7.
- The Questionable Blogger. Check out my Q&A with Chris Lucia from the excellent Blazer's Edge. Go here to see my answers to his questions.
- The schedule. The Clippers play consecutive games on national television. Both tonight's contest against Portland and Friday's home match against Cleveland will be on ESPN. After that, the Clippers get three winnable games against Sacramento, Boston, and Brooklyn.
- The Blazers and three-point defense. In my Q&A with Chris Lucia, he cited the Blazers emphasis on defending the three-point line as a major factor in their defensive improvement. In fact, Portland's opponents are shooting a league-worst 28.7% from deep. There are many who believe that opposing three-point percentage can fluctuate wildly and is influenced equally by randomness and defense, but appropriately enough, Doc Rivers-coached teams have also consistently defended the three, even if this year's team has been just middle-of-the-road. The Clippers enter tonight's game second in the league in three-point shooting, converting 38.4% of their attempts. Which trend will prevail?
- The Jedi and the Padawan. As of the latest and final NBA All-Star voting update, Damian Lillard sat fifth, approximately 200,000 votes behind fourth-place Chris Paul. Lillard is coming off a 34-point explosion against the Lakers that was punctuated by this demoralizing dunk. The elder point guard has gotten the better of his young counterpart in the past, but will the voting results push Lillard to a big night?
- Rumor City: Steve, our fearless leader, has been covering the steady stream of speculation that connects the Clippers with every trade target and buyout candidate. One late change, as reported by ESPN's Arash Markazi, is that the Clippers won't be signing Darius Miller to a 10-day contract, but will sign Dahntay Jones instead. Jones is a career 33.4% three-point shooter who hasn't played in the NBA since the 2012-2013 season. Get in line for Finals tickets!
- The race for Wilson Chandler. The Clippers' potential trade targets have dwindled, as Corey Brewer was sent to the Rockets and Jeff Green was recently acquired by the Grizzlies. One name that has persisted throughout the season is Wilson Chandler. However, Blazer's Edge had this bit of info. Seems that there is a battle brewing.
- Connections. Steve pulled these in the first matchup from November 8th, but here we go again... Former Clippers assistant and interim head coach Kim Hughes is now an assistant in Portland... Jamal Crawford played the 2011-2012 season in Portland... Former Clippers General Manager Neil Olshey now holds that role with the Blazers. Last summer, he acquired former Clippers Chris Kaman and Steve Blake to bolster the Portland bench. Who will he sign next? Al Thornton?... As always, if I missed any, put 'em in the comments.
- Wikipedia entry: Trail Blazer is an album by Turkish heavy metal band Mezarkabul. Released in 1992 by German independent record label Nuclear, the album contains eloquently-named tracks like "Secret Missile", "Vita es Morte", "Brain on the Wall", and "No One Wins the Fight". I do not want to listen to this.